I Wish Vaporwave Concerts Didn't Suck
  • TUESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2017

  • Posted by: Matt Guyotte

I love Vaporwave. I love the direction it's taking as a genre, and I feel like there is a lot of value to be had by just sitting back and listening to the spacey and dreamy atmospheres that its weird, fake Japanese-lettered songs create. And to sound like a total hippy, it's a lot like meditation. It has a real sense of transcendence that can only be touched on by the spaciest and reflective of ambient music.



It's no longer a meme, is what I'm saying.

Likely, if you even clicked on this article, the last you remember of this genre is its last "mainstream" iteration in 2013, that was heavily based on irony and meme culture. This caused a lot of people to think that the genre was just a passing fad, and they didn't pay it much mind outside of a joke. If that "2814" song was any indication, though, that's not quite the case anymore.

And for those who have no idea what the genre is, I'm not here to educate on the genre and the history of it, but, I will say that it is a genre that draws heavily on the 80s and 90s nostalgia by manipulating samples from popular songs, video games, and commercials from those decades.

This nostalgia feels blissful for people like me, who have heard the sounds used being sampled in their very young childhood. Subconsciously, it triggers the nostalgic response, and it harkens back to a deep-rooted elation that comes with thinking of your childhood. I wish there was a non-pretentious way to say it. But if you're into the genre at all, it's understood that most of the appeal isn't directly heard. If you want a greater history of the genre, you can check this out. And if that's too long, vaporwave's most "famous" song is linked too.



Or the most popular song:



I love this weird genre. Unfortunately, their concerts do kinda suck. I went to one this weekend. It was for ESPRIT ??, and I love his music. It's some of the most inventive I have ever heard, and taps into that nostalgia factor, and just "takes me away, dude".



But he wasn't a good live performer.

When I first arrived at the hip and dingy spot he was playing at, the way the stage was set up had me excited, because there was a drum set, so I thought, "Oh, there's going to be live drumming, sick. This is going to be taken to a whole new level".

There wasn't.

The concert turned out to be the dude just sitting at a sampler and vibing along to his own music; stuck in his own world. And while that's not necessarily a bad thing, he never brought the audience into that world. Which sucks, because the music was cool, and he has skill with slicing samples together, but there was no reason for us as an audience to be invested in anything that was happening on stage. Which, goes against, you know, the whole point of a SHOW. He actually explicitly said that it was chill to not pay attention during his SHOW. He wasn't showing anything. The only interesting thing that was really going on on stage was that he had a curtain with lights on that displayed "ESPRIT 420" panning right across the stage while he was playing. But that never changed.



And I understand it's hard with electronic music. I understand it's hard to put on a show when you have to be attending to a sampler, a keyboard, and sometimes a microphone; but that's no excuse. People who play acoustic instruments have to remember just as many things as what buttons to press, and what knobs to adjust to doing an eq sweep or to turn the depth and noise up for the flanger, and many acoustic instrument players have awesome stage personalities. That's not an excuse for not engaging with the audience. Even standing up and looking out at the audience makes a huge difference.

Vaporwave has no excuses to hide behind. There are tons of established electronic musicians that put work into their shows, and it turns out to be amazing because they realize that the audience is there. Grimes is an awesome example of this. Although she's not the best singer at times, she PERFORMS her music and is always trying to look towards the audience when she can.



And even from an ambient music perspective - they have no excuse. One of the best shows that I have seen was a Tim Hecker show - where he had a room filled with fog to the point where you almost couldn't see the person next to you, and he had you enter into the world. He did this by embodying his music through the world he was making with his lights and ominous fog.




And fog machines aren't that expensive, dude. Strobe lights are like 20 bucks on Amazon. And you can have somebody to control both of those, and instantly your shows become ten times better because you're actually trying to bring the audience into the world that is created with your music.

It doesn't need to be a huge budget Deadmau5 or Daft Punk show with lights that cost thousands of dollars and moving projections of yourself, you just need a CONNECTION to be made for the audience to walk away with anything.

What inhibits this from happening is the irony that a lot of Vaporwave producers still live in. One of the most famous vaporwave producers, FrankJavCee, bases his whole career around memes, whether it be from his stage or social media presence. And the thing is, he's actually not a bad performer and his shows are fun, even; but because he's never presented vaporwave as anything more than a joke, it's never resonated as anything more than that. Even Macintosh Plus (or Vektroid), the most famous and prolific vaporwave producer that actually brought it to the mainstream, does nothing more than looking at her Macbook screen the whole time - like she's scrolling through Facebook while adjusting the EQ knobs. And that sucks.





Vaporwave producers are afraid of being genuinely passionate when they perform. And it's not helping them. For ESPRIT ??, FrankJavCee, and Macintosh Plus/Vektroid they're afraid of showing any type of emotion other than detached irony. But that's not how genres and artists succeed. They succeed through passion. No band has ever had a lasted impact by inspiring apathy and irony to their fans.

But maybe Vaporwave doesn't want to make a lasting impact. And that's fine; if that's what they want collectively as producers. Still, though, this genre holds some of the most transcendent and beautiful music I have ever heard, and to see it succumb to a fate of ironic detachment is sad to see. Because it has a lot to offer. It just needs to realize that it does.
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